A Gen Z-led company tapped TikTok influencers to turn out young voters in midterm elections, creating a “blueprint” for 2024

TikTok collage 4X3
From left, TikTok influencers Christian Maldonado, Tega Orhorhoro, and Ryze Hendricks.Compiled by Insider, courtesy of Social Currant
  • A Gen Z-led company tapped TikTok influencers in November to persuade young people to vote.

  • Young people had one of their highest turnout rates ever in a midterm election in November.

  • Now some progressive groups are looking to influencers to mobilize young voters in 2024.

Two months before the midterm elections, Social Currant Founder and CEO Ashwath Narayanan thought TikTok and Instagram influencers would have better luck persuading young people to vote than a Facebook ad.

So Narayanan, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, matched his progressive advocacy clients like NextGen America and Community Change Action with creators on social media who have nothing to do with politics. Among them were a comedian, an actress, a makeup artist, and a rapper, who all delivered the message in whatever way they saw fit.

Their followers responded, and now the influencer campaigns of 2022 have become a model for how some advocacy groups will mobilize young voters in 2024.

"I think the people that cracked the youth voter turnout code are the youth," said Narayanan, whose staff is mostly Gen Z. "Trusting us to get other young people to vote I think is the lesson here. And I definitely think creators, and reaching young people where they are, is a huge part of it."

Young people aged 18 to 29 had one of their highest turnout rates ever in a midterm election in November. They overwhelmingly favored Democrats, helping prevent a Republican "red wave" election, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. President Joe Biden, who also courted TikTok influencers, especially thanked young people for the election results.

Politicians have long struggled to get young people to vote on election day. Maybe they've just been the wrong messengers.

"The challenge is that with few exceptions, there hasn't been a politician in recent memory that connects with young people in a way that's authentic and credible," said Shripal Shah, a partner at the Democratic media, strategy and public affairs firm Left Hook. "Creators, however, do."

Digital creators and influencers are the main source of trusted information for young people who grew up on social media platforms, said Shah, who is advising Social Currant. It's a "no-brainer" to use them to mobilize voters, "just like brands do with their products."

Without young voters' support in 2022, Democrats "would've been wiped out by Republicans across the map, up and down the ballot," he said. "That reality underscores the need to invest in creators for 2024 and beyond."

It's hard to imagine Republican groups embracing a similar strategy with influencers on TikTok, given their distrust of the Chinese-company owned app. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem went so far as to ban the use of TikTok on government devices, saying China uses information gathered on the app to "manipulate the American people." Some national security and social media experts, the Washington Post reported, also worry that the app isn't prepared to identify misinformation.

The Republican National Committee says it does not have a TikTok account. "We do not have any plans to give the Chinese Communist Party our data, nor do we plan to use their spyware," RNC spokesperson Nathan Brand told Insider.

But when it comes to reaching members of the digital generation, they aren't listening to anchors on major networks, said Antonio Arellano, a spokesperson for the youth voting organization NextGen America. "They're listening to influencers on TikTok and on Instagram. These are the trusted messengers," he said.

NextGen America spent $500,000 on its 2022 influencer program, the largest in youth politics nationwide during the midterm election cycle, Arellano said. They worked with young athletes, fashion bloggers, comics, and other influencers, creating a "blueprint" for their digital organizing efforts in 2024, he said.

"People were really clicking our links, which led them to pledge to vote, which led them to register to vote," he said.

NextGen is working on an influencer voter study to try to match voter files to influencer followers to know exactly how many followers went out and voted, he said.

 

TikTok influencer, GOTV effort
TikTok influencer "Dez" applauds a follower's response to a voter mobilization video.Courtesy of Community Change Action

Community Change Action used a "rapid testing tool" to understand how the videos were being received by target audiences, including young people of color. They also monitored the responses online, said Mikka Kei Macdonald, the group's creative director.

"The comments were, 'Oh my gosh, I'm finally old enough to vote, I had totally forgotten that I had to register, doing that right now,'" Macdonald said.

Between NextGen America and Community Change Action, Narayanan said they were able to reach about 13 million people on TikTok and Instagram in just the last two months of the midterm campaigns. Social Currant worked with nearly 300 creators in the last two months to produce more than 500 pieces of content, he said.

"We're trying to build … a movement with influencers," he said.

Social Currant Founder and CEO Ashwath Narayanan
Ashwath Narayanan, 22, Social Currant founder and CEOCourtesy of Kariann Tan, community manager at Social Currant

NextGen America and Community Change Action both said they pay influencers and give them control over the creative process. "We don't tell our influencers how to say things," Arellano said. "We lean into their skills and talents."

Rapper Ryze Hendricks, who has 6.3 million TikTok followers, delivered his message in rhyme: "I got a message for the youth. You got the power to make a difference and expose the truth."

Tega "Reacts" Orhorhoro danced with Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a New York Democrat, in a TikTok video for her nearly 4 million followers as part of a get-out-the-vote event.

@tegareacts #ad Get you a friend like Congressman Jamaal Bowman who loves to vote! Make sure you have a plan to vote on NOV 8 because voting is what besties do. #CCAPartnerAd ♬ original sound - bri

 

The groups turned to Social Currant, partly because its team members are young, themselves. "It's run by Gen Z folks," Arellano said. "They are uniquely positioned to connect us to the absolute most digitally savvy and successful voices online right now."

Narayanan, who graduated from George Washington University in May, said he launched the agency in September 2020 after noticing that advocacy organizations were often trying to figure out how to reach young people like him. He wanted to give other young people "voices in these rooms where they were making decisions about reaching us — without us," he said.

He quickly began to see investing in influencers, rather than ads on social media, as a powerful tool to build audiences. Now Social Currant is working on technology to make it easier for nonprofits to find the right trusted messenger for topics such as immigration, health care, abortion access or gun violence prevention.

He wants to continue tapping influencers to spread messages about important legislation passing Congress or voter registration deadlines.

"The youth vote this year has just been phenomenal," Narayanan said. "I think it just shows what young people can do.

 

Read the original article on Business Insider